cover image The Cleaner

The Cleaner

Brandi Wells. Hanover Square, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-335-01810-6

Wells turns the office novel on its head in their sly and satirical debut. Here, the nine-to-five workers are largely absent, their personalities inferred or imagined by the novel’s unnamed narrator, who cleans the office building after hours. At first, the nicknames she coins for the daytime employees (Mr. Buff, Yarn Guy, Sad Intern) seem harmlessly whimsical, a creative means of alleviating the drudgery of her job. Soon, however, it becomes clear that the narrator’s involvement goes far beyond emptying the trash and picking up used tea bags: “My actual job is to take care of everyone. They need so much help.” She intervenes in the lives of those she admires by deleting appointments to make space for self-care. For those she disapproves of—including the company’s morally bankrupt CEO—she exposes their secrets. The narrator’s desire to be indispensable rather than invisible drives the narrative, which shifts into high gear as her meddling grows increasingly unsettling and her delusions more off-kilter. Wells is a keen observer of the mundane indignities and petty dramas of office life. Rarely has cubicle culture been depicted in such griminess or with such glee. (Jan.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review used the wrong pronoun to refer to the author.